William C. Norris, founder of Control Data, dies at 95
William Norris, who founded Control Data Corp. and helped put Minnesota on the high-tech map during the last half of the 20th century, died today. He was 95.
Norris died after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.
"His mind was always very, very clear up to the end," said his son, Roger Norris. "His body just gave out before his mind did."
Norris and others founded Engineering Research Associates in St. Paul in 1946. ERA was sold a few years later and ultimately ended up as part of Sperry Rand's Univac division, which Norris ran in the mid-1950s, building UNIVAC "electronic brains."
Norris left UNIVAC in 1957 and co-founded Control Data. Within three years, his company was building the most powerful computer in the world, the 1604.
Control Data grew rapidly in the 1960s, propelled by supercomputers designed by Seymour Cray. Norris diversified the firm into computer peripherals, including printers and disk drives, and data processing services.
By 1969, Control Data had 45,000 employees and $1 billion in annual revenue. From 1976 to 1980, revenue grew from $2.1 billion to $3.8 billion in 1980. Revenue peaked at $5 billion in 1984.
Norris retired in 1986 as the world was evolving away from mainframe computers. CDC's work force plunged from 60,000 in 1984 to 17,000 in 1989, and the company was split in two in 1992. The name has since vanished.
From 1988 to 2000, Norris chaired the William C. Norris Institute, a nonprofit group focused on technology education, inner-city tech jobs and technical training in Russia. The institute is now part of the University of St. Thomas' College of Business in St. Paul.
According to biographical information on the institute's Web site, Norris and his twin sister, Willa, were born on July 14, 1911, in Red Cloud, Neb. Norris grew up on his parents cattle, hog and corn farm, and attended a one-room country school, where physics became his favorite subject. He graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1932 with a degree in electrical engineering.
Norris' survivors include his wife, Jane; six sons and two daughters.
A public visitation will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the O'Halloran & Murphy funeral home in St. Paul. Funeral services will be announced later.